A state judge ruled this week that Indian River County’s charter schools deserve a proportional share of a special property tax that helps to pay for the county’s public schools, despite the county school board’s argument that it could give them less.
In a ruling with potential repercussions for Palm Beach County, the judge sided Tuesday with five charter schools that argued they were entitled to a proportionate share of the money that Indian River County’s school district earns from an extra property tax levied to help pay for school operations.
The school district had been giving the five charters a 5-percent cut of the windfall from that tax, but the charter schools argued that they deserved 12 percent, based on the percentage of the county’s public school students they educate, TCPalm’s Andrew Atterbury reports.
The school district argued it had the right to determine how much of that money to share with charters. But State Circuit Judge Paul Kanarek said the school district’s position was “unsupported by the law.”
In his ruling, Kanarek wrote that under state law charter schools are entitled to a proportionate share of the money from special property taxes set up to help pay for school operations, just as they receive a proportionate share of education funding provided through by the state.
“The plain language of the statute affirmatively states that charter schools shall be funded from the sum of a school district’s operating funds,” including state funding as well as local taxes, he wrote.
Under the ruling, the school district could be on the hook for up to $2 million, though the specific amount has yet to be determined, TCPalm reported.
The school district can appeal the ruling to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach.
If it stands, the ruling could open the door to legal challenges in Palm Beach County, where the school district reaps benefits from a similar “discretionary” property tax but doesn’t share any of the windfall with the county’s 50-something charter schools.
The special tax, approved by voters in 2010 and reauthorized in 2014, levies an extra tax of 25 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value on residential and commercial properties in Palm Beach County. The extra tax raises about $40 million a year.
The money is used to pay for extra teachers to teach subjects such as art, music, physical education and magnet programs.
Charter school leaders have complained in the past about being cut out of the extra education money, calling the arrangement “separate but not equal.”
“We believe it is an injustice that a group of students receive unequal funding because their parents made a choice,” Kendall Artusi, of the Bright Futures Academy charter school in Palm Beach Gardens, told Palm Beach County commissioners in 2014.
But the school board has refused to give the county’s charters a share, saying that it could not guarantee any oversight of the money since charter schools are privately managed.
The ballot language that voters approved in 2014 “was explicit that charter schools were excluded,” said Mike Burke, the school district’s chief financial officer.
If the school board were required to gave a proportional share of that money to the county’s charter schools, the annual tab could be roughly $4 million a year.